25 January 2023
The manufacturer's first coach models arrive for review and Andy York is keen to examine them.
In 2019, Mk. 5 stock for Serco’s Caledonian Sleeper franchise was introduced, incredibly the first new locomotive-hauled coaching stock for the UK in 30 years. These models will attract the eye of modeller's of the contemporary scene (and those who like running anything and everything) and are the ideal companion for Accurascale’s recent Class 92 in Caledonian and GBRf liveries.
Produced by CAF in Spain, the Caledonian Mk. 5 coaches are slightly different from the Transpennine stock, by width and internal configuration, and are dedicated to the services from London Euston to north of the Border. Simplistically there are two trains comprising of 16 coaches on departure from the capital overnight, each with two eight-car consists. The Lowlander service splits at Carstairs with eight coaches for Glasgow Central and eight for Edinburgh Waverley. The Highlander service, with the full 16 coaches, follows the same path to Edinburgh where the train divides with one eight-coach formation bound for Inverness and the remaining stock is split into two trains for Aberdeen and Fort William, with the addition of further seated and club vehicles – as demand requires – necessary for the onward services. From Edinburgh the trains are hauled by Class 73/9 and Class 66 locomotives.
Accurascale has produced each of the four types of vehicles; the seated car, the club cars for lounge and dining facilities, the accessible sleeper coach, which includes two fully accessible berths, and the standard sleeper. The models have been sensibly been made available as packs with two packs required for each eight-coach half-set for the Lowlander and a pack of six coaches for the Aberdeen Highlander, two packs of four for the Inverness Highlander and a pack of four coaches for the Fort William Highlander. All of the packs initially announced and produced are now sold out, but some have changed hands at astronomical prices already on eBay. However, I am very, very certain that further runs will follow with some different running numbers in due course; after all this is a fleet of 75 vehicles – 11 seated cars, 41 standard sleepers and 12 accessible sleepers plus 11 club cars.
The presentation of the models in boxed sets is superb with accompanying explanatory leaflets, no wayward parts in transit and a finish which shows quality on first sight. Caledonian’s deep blueish-green is a difficult colour to replicate as it changes so much under various lights, but Accurascale’s rendition looks spot-on to me, with a metallic silver finish to the doors and bold stag’s antlers to the bodyside. The weight feels good at 168g but bear in mind a full rake of 16 coaches will weigh in at almost 2.7kg, so the train needs useful traction – Accurascale's Class 92 doesn't disappoint in that department. There is a little more rolling resistance in the portrayed modern style of inside-framed bogie with air suspension than with traditional outside-framed bogies. In model terms the former requires the axle to fit within clips where the resistance arises rather than pin-point axles in the latter.
While the roof surfaces are very plain, aside from the club car with its white telecommunications dome, this is offset by the exceptional level of detail beneath the body of each coach with equipment boxes and even etched grilles over fans. The decoration is superb with much fine lettering and signage, especially the long fleet number printed in white over the silver. The flush glazing is excellent with no discernible prismatic edge distortion and the coach end sockets and piping is all there. To improve upon the universal tension-lock coupling, Accurascale has fitted each model with NEM-pocketed magnetic couplings in the style of the real thing. These make hand coupling and uncoupling very easy, but unfortunately, the weight of a full 16-coach train, especially on curves and gradients, can lead to it separating. This can be overcome by using Accurascale’s rigid coupling, available as an extra on its website to join coaches where uncoupling is unnecessary. A kinematic close-coupling approach is adopted which keeps coaches commendably close, even around curves. To couple the packs to locomotives, a mini tension-lock coupling is provided for each end of the rake.
No decoder appears to be necessary as the lights were powered on analogue and digital, and can be turned on and off by waving the included magnetic wand over the centre of the coach. The lights are not ridiculously bright, but give an even, subdued spread along the length of the saloon or corridor on the sleeper coaches. Tail lights are included at both ends of every coach and these can be turned on or off with the wand so that only the taillamps of the rearmost vehicle is showing the two red lights. Included in the circuitry is a stay-alive capacitor which gave nearly a minute’s worth of supply to the interior lighting, even after removal from the track, meaning you won’t be seeing flickering lights over unreliable track.
From the box there are empty apertures for the destination panels. There is a pack for each coach with two clear plastic parts backed with the destination information for each of the end points for the train; this pack being London Euston or Fort William as this is Highlander Pack 2. These are very easy to fit but should be stuck in place to avoid loss; clear PVA worked very well for me.
All in all, these are very impressive indeed. For the equivalent of £45 per coach – remarkable value.
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